Through 1996, the one school synonymous with boys' basketball in the Sac-Joaquin Section was Ripon Christian, which that year hoisted its ninth section title banner.
But the following year, only three miles from the RC campus, a new dynasty was born when the Modesto Christian boys claimed their first section crown.
While the Knights have not won a blue banner since 1996, their nine still stand as the second-most titles in section history.
The Crusaders, meanwhile, have not been stopped. Their 12 section titles, including the last 10 in consecutive years, is the new standard.
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This short history lesson becomes relevant, since — for the first time — both Modesto Christian and Ripon Christian are considered favorites to compete for section titles in the same year.
The Crusaders (18-8) are the No. 3 seed in Division 4 and will host Millennium of Tracy tonight at 7 o'clock in a first-round game. The Knights (19-6) are the No. 2 seed in Division 5 and also open at home tonight against another group of Knights — Stone Ridge Christian of Merced.
"We have high expectations this year," said RC coach Ron Vander Molen. "There was a stretch there when we were running into either Modesto Christian or Capital Christian every year."
Being in different divisions, there's no chance of another Crusaders-Knights game this season. MC claimed both meetings during the Trans-Valley League season, including an 81-56 win in Ripon on Friday that was a dominant performance.
Could Ripon Christian have a hangover from absorbing such a lopsided loss to end the regular season? Vander Molen thinks not.
"The first-round game should help us forget about this game, so there's no worry there," he said Friday night. "I can tell from the locker room that their focus is on the playoffs. This game tonight can only help us. Nothing bad can come out of what happened here tonight."
Ripon Christian finished tied for second in the TVL with Escalon, though the truth is that the league's best two teams are MC's starters and MC's second team, which coach Gary Porter uses in hockey-style platoons.
"It was hard for me to go to a platoon system," Porter said. "I'm a strict rotation guy, and I'll usually go with six guys who will stay in until they fall over and die. It was a big step of faith for me, but the boys bought into it and they're having a good time."
Porter's hand was forced somewhat by the rare lack of a true star at MC. From the very start of the run, there's always been a Crusader varsity player destined for Division I.
"We've always had at least one," Porter said. "Even that first year there ended up being Division I guys, but they were the young guys. This was a different year and a difficult year. When league came around we decided to try it, and it caught on with the kids. We have confidence, and we have kids who are buying into some of the things we're telling them."
He made the change after the Crusaders began the season struggling just to compete, let alone win. When the MC football team played well into December en route to the small-school bowl championship, it meant the basketball team's preseason would be non-existent.
The Crusaders, who never before had lost an opening-round game in their own holiday tournament, found themselves winless in four games in the event.
"It's tough to step in straight from football season and play against Skyline and those teams before you put in your offense," Porter said. So, he said, he went to the platoon system, and called it "probably the best thing I ever could have done with this group."
His starting five are all seniors. Late in the first quarter, the second group runs to the table with a quintet of three juniors, a sophomore and a freshman.
While both units play the same system, the different levels of energy on any given night makes it seem like the opposition is facing two different teams.
"I'm not changing a thing for the playoffs," Porter said. "It could be that I start intermingling players, which I've done already. But I'm starting off the way I left, and that's a lot different for me.
"You have to prepare for two teams when you play us, and they're two different teams. You see why I'm not going to switch."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.
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